26 October 2008
When Adel Kamel met Picasso in 1972, Picasso patted him on the back and grinned: “You are an Egyptian pharaoh,” he said; “I am a Spanish pharaoh.”
Picasso used “pharaoh” to denote a giant in artistic stature; he could not have better phrased the notion. Despite Dr Kamel’s towering stature as a musicologist of international renown, he was a man who deeply respected the young and old, and enthusiastically encouraged young talent.
Dr Kamel’s pet issue—and one for which he devoted most of his time and energy—was Coptic music. He regarded it as an invaluable spiritual and artistic heritage that went as far back in time as ancient Egypt. As such, this heritage was well worth preserving and promoting, he believed.
Dr Kamel’s doctoral degree dissertation was on the use of Coptic musical themes in modern compositions, and he did some pioneering work on that front. He used the “Agios” (Holy) joyful theme as basis for a fugue and the “Golgotha” poignant melody for another composition.
In 2002, Dr Kamel teamed up with Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of Watani, to produce a documentary on Ragheb Moftah, which he directed. Moftah was then 100 years old, and had made it his life mission to have the oral tradition of Coptic music transcribed in musical notation. Moftah was Dr Kamel’s living hero where the preservation of Coptic music was concerned.
On the pages of his “Panorama” section in Watani, Dr Kamel harshly criticised the movement to ‘modernise’ Coptic hymns by placing the words to the music of popular hit songs or by using musical instruments to accompany traditional hymns. Coptic music, he never tired of emphasising, was a vocal music that should never be sung to the sound of instruments other than the cymbals or the triangle.
Dr Kamel did not shy away from controversial topics. He wrote criticising the music curriculum of primary schools in Egypt, the deterioration in some musical forms in Egypt such as musical marches, and the rules governing the musicians’ syndicate.
In Watani Dr Kamel was fondly nicknamed the “Sindbad” because of his frequent travels. He went everywhere in the world and wrote back to Watani readers about what he saw and experienced. He wrote about the people he met, about Egyptian expatriates, the museums he visited, the landscapes and towns, the churches and monasteries.
As a masterful film critic, Dr Kamel covered countless film festivals around the world. He wrote several times about the festivals of Cannes and Berlin, as well as the US Academy Awards, to mention but a few.
Dr Kamel also used to attend many music festivals around the world, frequently as a jury member. The Bella Bartock festival in Budapest, the Musica Sacra in the Czech Republic, and the festival of youth music in Vienna became familiar names to Watani readers. As one avid reader put it, “We would never have known these festivals existed had it not been for Adel Kamel.”
Shakespeare once wrote:
“The evil that men do lives after them,